Christian Laettner and the Profitability of Big Blue Hate

Posted by Gerald Smith on October 25th, 2011

Since 1992, former Duke forward Christian Laettner has been remembered in the dark recesses of every Kentucky fans’ heart. Beating The Unforgettables — the senior class of Wildcats who overachieved through Kentucky’s probation in the early 1990s — on a last-second shot created an entire generation of fans who harbor special hatred for Laettner and his stomp of Wildcat Aminu Timberlake’s chest.  After a decent pro career and some financial difficulties, Laettner re-engaged with Big Blue Nation Monday night. Laettner wanted to be hated; more specifically, Laettner wanted to get paid for being hated.

The Big Blue Hate Trade isn’t quite as profitable as former Wildcat basketball player Jeff Sheppard and his production team hoped. This Villains exhibition game was the ninth and final game of the Big Blue All-Star Tour that stretched throughout the state of Kentucky in the last couple of weeks. Laettner’s fame as Wildcat Enemy #1 was supposed to be the big pull to draw repeat attendees. Instead the announcement of Laettner’s involvement sparked some heated debate within Big Blue Nation as some fans did not want him a part of the festivities. Even after nearly 20 years since Laettner’s shot and Kentucky winning two National Championships of their own, it is still too soon for some Kentucky fans to let bygones be bygones.

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Past Imperfect: The Tournament We Forgot

Posted by JWeill on March 18th, 2011

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Each week, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBossEmail) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the lost, great 1998 NCAA tournament.

The 1998 NCAA tournament is the most exciting, bracket busting, nerve-wracking, well-played tournament in the modern era. And yet, no one seems to remember it. It’s sandwiched right there between “Simon says, ‘Championship,’” and Khalid El-Amin atop the scorer’s table. Can you see it? Look closely, it’s there. It’s the one with the two weird teams in the Final Four, the North Carolina squad coached by the old guy (no, not Dean Smith, the other old guy) and the first-year black coach at Kentucky. Oh, I know what will help…it’s the one where the coach’s kid hits that shot. Oh, now you remember.

It’s a shame, too, that no one remembers the 1998 tourney in toto. From beginning to end, the tournament was riveting, nip-and-tuck, gut-twisting basketball. And it didn’t take long at all to shake things up. On the first day, before many people were probably even aware that games were afoot, an out-of-the-way locale provided fans with some of the tournament’s most in-your-face moments, courtesy of a few names fans would become very familiar with over the next decade but who at the time were little known outside of the basketball community. But strange things can happen in Boise.

Ben Howland, then coach of the 15th-seeded Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, had his team on the cusp of history, all even at 62 apiece with Bob Huggins’ two-seed Cincinnati with just seconds remaining. Northern Arizona was the nation’s best three-point shooting team that year, so it was doubly cruel when Cincinnati’s D’Juan Baker buried an open three to win the game with just 3.6 seconds left to save the Bearcats’ skin. But Cincinnati’s flirtation with late-game disaster would come back to bite them the next round when, this time against West Virginia, Baker again hit a deep three-pointer to give his team the lead and then strutted down the court, only to watch helplessly as Mountaineers guard Jarrod West – yes, Jarrie West — threw up a prayer that was answered with eight tenths of a second left. West’s tipped three-pointer hit the backboard and went through the net, turning Baker’s sideline strut into a slumped-over disbelief. Live by the buzzer beater, die by the buzzer beater.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Tennessee fans got their first glimpse of a coach they’d become all too familiar with in a few years, when Kevin Stallings-coached Illinois State ruined the Volunteers’ sunny trip West on a running layup with 1.8 seconds left in overtime. While the Redbirds would get blasted in the second round, that was small consolation for Tennessee fans. Because just a season later, Stallings would take the job at intra-state rival Vanderbilt.

Valparaiso guard Bryce Drew hit a classic buzzer beater in Round 1.

But the action wasn’t all left to the Left Coast. Back in D.C., President Bill Clinton wasn’t the only one issuing denials. Washington denied Xavier a spot in the second round on a Deon Luton game-winner, while three-seed South Carolina saw B.J. McKie’s last-gasp attempt fall short, keeping the Gamecocks on the outside looking in at upset king Richmond moving on. Oh, and for good measure, Indiana needed extra time to top Oklahoma as well. Had enough? Too bad. Because if Thursday seemed like enough excitement for any single round, things were just getting started.

All across the country, the tense moments and close games continued on Friday. In Lexington, a gruff Syracuse senior from Lithuania named Marius Janulis buried not one but two three-pointers to help the Orange squeak by Iona. Then Chicago turned into Boise, with Detroit Mercy upsetting St. John’s by two and Western Michigan sending Clemson packing by three. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, UCLA outlasted Miami (Fl.) on four straight free throws in the final seconds. And then, it happened.

It would be a shot for all time. It would be replayed so often it has become an indelible part of the very tournament itself. Like Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper, like Jim Valvano running around looking for someone to hug, the miracle shot by Valparaiso guard, and son of his coach, Bryce Drew was the artistic flourish on a first round of gripping drama. Drew’s deep three, coming on a designed play whereby a half-court pass is touch passed to a streaking Drew, was the most memorable moment on a whole tournament’s worth of memorable moments.

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RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on August 22nd, 2009

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Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

Just a mere five months ago, the once proud and feared Kentucky basketball program was mired in a state of chaos. The Billy Gillispie era at the university turned out about as well as the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination. Mystifying losses at storied Rupp Arena to such powers as Gardner-Webb and VMI, puzzling interviews with ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards making the blog rounds and exposing Gillispie as a clown, point guards refusing to enter games, rumors of bar scenes of an inebriated Gillispie making a mockery of his reputation and, worse of all, the Wildcats missing the NCAA Tournament in 2009 only to falter in the NIT. After Gillispie was fired, both parties sued each other and now Gillispie is releasing a book that nobody will read. It’s been a whacky offseason in Big Blue Country, and even though their new savior has some issues of his own, the Kentucky basketball program has experienced an unfathomable turnaround over the summer from the laughing stock of college basketball to a legitimate contender to win a national title.

The hiring of John Calipari and the return of forward Patrick Patterson has rejuvenated Kentucky to the point of being widely considered the favorites in an improving SEC this season. The addition of two top-five recruits- point guard John Wall and power forward DeMarcus Cousins- along with Gillispie’s recruits staying on board and a decent core returning from last season’s squad means expectations are once again sky-high in Lexington. Nobody is thinking about Billy Gillispie but rather the school’s first Final Four berth since the Jeff Sheppard era of 1998.

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Here’s the official schedule for a Kentucky team that may be the most exciting to watch this season in all of college basketball:

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 7. The non-conference schedule in John Calipari’s first season features some big names and decent tests, but no overwhelmingly challenging road games are included on the slate. The only true road game is a trip to Bloomington in early December to take on a rebuilding Indiana squad that Kentucky should run out of the building. Emotions will be high for both the North Carolina and Louisville visits during the non-conference season. North Carolina has embarrassed Kentucky handily in two previous meetings and the Wildcats will be eager to exact revenge on their rival Cardinals following last season’s Edgar Sosa miracle (not to mention the coaches aren’t exactly best friends). The schedule also includes a trip to Cancun to take on Cinderella Cleveland State and the Stanford/Virginia winner, none of those teams posing close to a threat. One team that could surprise Kentucky is their opponent in the SEC/Big East Invitational in New York: the Connecticut Huskies. UConn did lose a boatload of scoring and rebounding, but Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker and Stanley Robinson could be enough to hang with Kentucky’s immense talent. At least for a while.

Cupcake City: While Gillispie was prone to the shocking early-season upset, we suspect Calipari will have his team 100% prepared offensively and defensively every single night throughout the campaign. Kentucky has eight games at home against mid-major or low-major competition this season and one visit to Louisville to take on UNC-Asheville. They should sprint through this slate and remain a decent bet to run the table in non-conference play.

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